How A Pro Soccer Player Turned VC Stays Organized

We talk about how Cameron Porter takes notes on meetings and podcasts, how he sets personal OKRs, and about being world-class at multiple things

Most people only get to be world class at one thing in their life. Cameron Porter is already world class at two, and he’s only 26.

As a professional soccer player, he’s scored goals in front of stadiums full of 40,000 screaming fans.

As an investor, he works at Kevin Ryan’s AlleyCorp — originators of MongoDB, Business Insider, and Gilt.

Success like this isn’t an accident. Cameron uses an impressive array of systems to foster his own growth, learning, and productivity. We sat down this week to talk about a few of them:

  • His habit of takings notes on meetings, podcasts, and books in Notion
  • His Sunday evening ritual to review the previous week’s notes and improve his recall
  • The principles he collects to help him run his life and make better decisions
  • How he builds habits and sets personal OKRs
  • A simple trick he uses to stay in touch with his friends
  • How he uses a physical journal to build a living record of his mind
  • How to be world-class at multiple things

Let’s dive in!

How he got to play in the MLS

I grew up in Dayton, Ohio. I started playing soccer when I was four or five years old. I played for my dad’s team, the Purple People Eaters, where all great soccer careers start.

In high school, I didn't have the intention to go play Division One soccer. I've always been very focused on the enjoyment I get out of my athletic pursuits, and not just the pure competition. My motto has always been, “Work hard, have fun.” 

So getting to play for Princeton was totally serendipitous. A recruiter saw me play, and reached out via an email, and I was like, "Oh, this is an opportunity to use this to go to an incredible school." 

Once I actually got to Princeton, I remember the first week of pre-season, I thought, "I'm just lucky to be here." Never did it cross my mind when I was going there, that I'd actually be a significant player on the team. Then the senior forward got injured, and I ended up starting the first game of the season, and I played every single game after that. 

Fast forward to my senior year, I ended up having a really good season, and was lucky enough to get drafted by the Montreal Impact that winter. So I dropped out of school to play professionally. 

The reason I chose to do that is because it's such a time-constrained opportunity. There's always going to be another business to start. My body's only so young, and so that was the real reason I ended up pursuing it. 

I made some great memories doing it. We came close to winning the Champions League in Montreal. I ended up scoring a really big goal in the Quarter Finals, which was an unbelievable thing. 

You're in Olympic Stadium, there’s 40 thousand people, and they’re cheering for you.

It was incredible. I went from absolutely no-name rookie to walking around the city and getting photos taken with people.

After that, I ended up having a major injury, and getting traded to Kansas City where I played for another year and a half. I was just about back to full health and feeling good on the field again, and then I blew out my ankle.

That's where I decided, you know, you only have two legs. If you've broken both of them, you really don't have much else to do. That was where I started really thinking, "This is the time for me to call it quits on the playing career."

Playing at a professional level is very exciting. There's a lot of unique aspects to it. But it’s missing a lot of things as well. 

There’s less camaraderie. Ultimately people are thinking about, "This is my income. How is it affecting my career?" The motivation's just a little less pure. 

I ended up retiring at the beginning of 2018, and ended up working on a startup. We built a knowledge management tool called Tangle, that was based on work we had started while I was still in college at Princeton. That was a fascinating experience. We definitely made a ton of mistakes, but ultimately learned a lot, and enjoyed the experience. 

After the startup, one thing led to another, and now, I find myself on the other side of the table at AlleyCorp. Which I like because I think it VC really satiates curiosity. You get to learn about as many interesting people as possible, doing interesting things, and make yourself as useful to them as possible. 

It reminds me of the quote, "Avoid boring people." 

You don't want to be boring to others, and you don't want to be around people who are boring to you. Venture capital seemed like a very good place to achieve that, and now I'm here.

How he got into programming and why he loves it

When I got to Princeton I thought I would study economics and go on to Wall Street. But partway through my freshman year, one of the older guys on the team encouraged me to take a computer science class. He was like, “You have to try this because it’s the coolest thing I’ve ever learned.”

I get in there the first day and they're teaching us how to read binary, like basic Java statements. I was literally like, "I have no idea what's going on here." But I took it with two other friends, we struggled through it together, and it started to click. I really started to enjoy it.

So that set up one major interest in my life, which has been computer science. A lot of that interest just comes from, it's a totally different way to think about the world and solve problems in a highly practical way.

I think that what's different about computer science is that in a lot of ways you're always thinking about small base cases and how they build towards bigger and more elegant solutions. You’re breaking things down, searching for the edge cases, and making sure a system is foolproof. That line of thinking has applications everywhere. 

Computers are great; they tell you when you're doing something right or wrong, and so you just can practice very quickly. That's what really attracted me to it.

How he got started organizing what he knows

In terms of my journey and how it started, it honestly started as soon as I left school and dropped out. I just had this time to read things, and learn things. 

I was like, "How am I retaining this information? How's it actually going to come back and be useful for me? Especially because my job right now is kicking a ball." 

And it just became clear, people are forgetting machines. We're very good at it. That’s why having something that helps you be intentional about remembering the things you want to remember is important because we do just forget or we distort. We just have very biological brains that change things.

I wanted to make sure I had a system for getting value out of this stuff. 

Using Github to track knowledge

My first attempt to do this was a simple system I set up in GitHub to track knowledge. The idea there is that what I wanted was not only the information itself, but to also be able to track what I was thinking about over time.

I divided it into Experiences, Projects, Reading, and Thoughts.

Experiences being things that I'm doing, Projects have some kind of dedicated output I'm producing, Reading is pretty self-explanatory, and Thoughts is just random thoughts. 

Honestly, this didn't last long, because it’s really difficult to add things to GitHub on mobile. 

Using Notion as his second brain

After I stopped using GitHub, I switched to using Notion for this. I use Notion for a few things:

  • Meeting notes
  • Book, podcast, and article notes
  • Life principles
  • Personal OKRs and Habits

I have very specific processes for how I use it in my day-to-day, and then how I use it to review things on a regular cadence.

Using Notion for notes

On any given day, I'm doing two things: I am meeting with people and I am consuming content. What that means is that I'll have meetings and I have a calendar where I'll make a note with the person's name, and the bullet points of the key pieces of information from the meeting.

I also do a very similar thing with my library of notes from content I’m consuming. 

As I'm listening to a podcast, for example, I’ll be walking around, and I'll be taking quick notes. On any given day, I'm just collecting information that way. I do the same thing with books I read.

So I collect everything I read and listen to into a page on Notion I call my Library. It’s also public so anyone can read it.

He uses a Sunday evening ritual to improve retention and find what’s most important

Then, on Sunday evenings, I do the process of a weekly review. The way that review works, is that I'll just go back and read through all of my notes for the week.

For each of the notes, I’ll bold the things that stick out and seem important. It’s kind of a combination of Tiago Forte’s Progressive Summarization and spaced repetition. 

So when I do a review, I’ll basically have found the important things, and also re-triggered them in my brain for better memory retention.

I do this with meetings, books, and podcasts. I do it a little differently with books and podcasts in my library though.

What I do is for each note in the library, I pick an image that I can strongly associate with it. 

When you go through a minute of finding an image that you care about, and you think matches what's in there, you all of a sudden create another connection to it, which makes you more likely to remember it.

How doing this makes him feel like he’s making progress towards a goal

Going through this and doing it intentionally, makes me feel like I'm making progress towards a goal, and I just enjoy the process of doing it. I think one of the things that having a system does, is it creates a feedback loop. By doing this on a daily, weekly, quarterly cadence, I now have a feedback loop for my information acquisition.

I can feel good about how I'm doing and improving, which is very hard if you're just reading a book, reading an article, and at the end of the month I said, "What did you learn this month?" It's very hard to say. 

You can't see the feedback. It's the same thing why when I'm lifting, I track it. I love the chart that shows it going up and to the right, and I can see over the course of a year that I'm actually improving, even though the feedback in terms of my body shape, over the course of the year may be marginal.

How doing this helps him unlock interesting conversations

Another thing I like about it, is that the things I'm tracking here and the things I'm putting time into, will start being a large part of the conversations I'm having. 

By spending time with this information, I'll end up having conversations with people about that topic, and I'll start meeting new people who are really helpful. So I get to use the knowledge-base I’m building up here as essentially a key to unlock more and more interesting people, and more and more interesting information.

Unless you have the right questions to ask, or the right mental models, the right keys, you're not going to be able to unlock more interesting things. 

Part of this is that I want to have the keys to get to the interesting conversations with people. 

He also uses Notion to collect principles

I also go through my principals on a weekly basis. These are things I collect and care about. They're really just things that make me think, and that add value to my life.

So for example, Abundance <- -> Scarce, is referring to the dichotomy between abundance and scarcity and that general trend that technology enables one or the other. 

If we're in a state of abundance, technology enables curation. If we're on the scarcity side, technology enables abundance. 

If you can start identifying the pattern of what state you're in, in any given field, you can start getting a general notion of what type of tools should you be making.

In information management, I think it's abundance, and so the question is: how do you curate and how do you create technology to curate?

So these are useful, but I think they’re mostly useful just to me. What’s useful is having a place for me to go through systematically and explore the latticework of ideas I have in my head. 

He creates and tracks habits for a healthier life in Notion

I have a list of the habits I'm trying to build at any one time. It's very fun to check them off once you've actually developed them.

Some of them I’m doing well at and some of them I’m not. Each of these will pop up on my daily to-do list, so I get to actually check off the things like, "Oh yep, I did take a cold shower today," and you just get the little feedback.

I always try to make sure when I’m trying to do something new or improve myself, that I find the lowest hurdle way to start, and just commit to that. That's been so helpful in really being intentional.

Using his system to stay in touch with his friends

One interesting ability I get as a consequence of using these systems, is that it helps me stay in touch with friends. 

Because I dropped out of school and I was very close with the people at Princeton, and I was moving to Montreal where I knew no one, one of the things my mom and dad had said was, "It's very easy to lose touch with your friends, but it takes very little effort to maintain those relationships," and there's high leverage ways to maintain them nowadays. 

What I had to do is that I have a list of people that are on different cycles, depending on how close I am to them. They range from essentially every three weeks, six weeks, or nine weeks, where I want to make sure I'm having some type of conversation or interaction with them. 

I use to do list as a way that I'll set a time to have a conversation with them, in say, nine weeks. And I’ll add just a little tidbit on what we were talking about last. Then it'll get resurfaced on my list. 

Setting personal OKRs

I also do personal OKRs. So when I’m setting goals, I use that as a framework. I make sure it's time bounded, clearly yes/no answerable by someone that isn't yourself, and I make sure it’s a little bit ambitious. 

I push myself to do things, because that effort really compounds.

My first OKR for this year, is that by Q2 I wanted to be working on a startup or for startups, in a way that will serve as the foundation for my career. 

That was my big goal for the Q1 of this year, and now I'm working with AlleyCorp in that capacity. 

By Q3, another OKR for myself is that Alice and I will move into a new apartment that is less noisy, well designed and organized, has a large eight person table to work at, as well as a proper standing desk. 

It's funny when you start writing things down, that you end up just guiding yourself to them, especially if you make a habit of revisiting them once a week. 

That's all I really do. You just have them in the back of your head, even if you don't think about them all the time.

Daily journaling, Moleskines and fountain pens

I also journal every night in a physical journal, a Moleskine. I always write with a fountain pen, which I love. Writing with a fountain pen is just beautiful.

There's just something fundamentally enjoyable about it. For me, every single night I'd just write for five minutes before I went to bed. Journaling for a while, was my meditation. 

It’s also fascinating to be able to go back and flip back through the years of doing this. I think the coolest one for me, is I have this journal entry from my time in Montreal. I write this journal entry like, "I really need to find a way to make my mark and make myself a differentiated. I can't just be another American college soccer player in the MLS. How am I going to be different? How am I going to be unique? What is going to be my thing?"

Then the next day I score this goal in the Champions League. I’m not saying one thing caused the other. It's just it's very fun to have that little journal thing, that I now can be like, "Oh, that's so funny. I remember sitting in the hotel room writing this, and the next day that happened." 

That's why I really love journaling and doing it in notebooks, where you just, every once in a while for no important reason, just flip through them. You just are going to see things like, "Wow, I was actually thinking about this for that long. This was important to me?"

I also love the notion of creating something that I can pass on. When I was writing in these notebooks, and I have tons of these moleskins, I essentially have this log of information that tracks my thinking across a year that anyone can pick up.I just think it's really interesting archive.

On being world class at multiple things

I think it really comes back to that core motivation. In soccer, it's working hard and having fun. I think when you can start finding joy in the process of doing things, you just do them better than others. It also leads you to doing more things than people think are feasible and being good at multiple things, just because when you really do enjoy something, you make time for it. For me, being in the startup world now, but playing sports, I always made time for it, even if it was me dribbling the ball alone in my apartment, or doing weekly reviews of information on my own.

You find joy in the process and creating your own feedback loops of how you are getting better as an individual. That's the real metric of success. I think that's where you start to get differentiated gains. It really all comes, for me, from what do you enjoy doing and how do you build a life around improving, and taking enjoyment out of the process of improving that thing. My parents used to laugh at me. I'd lay down bricks in the garage and I would just dribble around them for an hour each day. That was my getaway.

A book that he likes

The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg. This is where a lot of the habit stuff I’ve been doing comes from. And it underscores the fact that when you get very intentional about habits, they're very easy to build one at a time. 

Thanks for reading! I would love to know what you think about this issue. Hit reply, and send me some feedback! Or forward to the superorganizer in your life who you think would most want to read this.

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